That headline comes straight from the original story, and you can see that it wants to have it both ways: it’s “Muslim conflict” but also “ethnic violence.” Yet we’re told that there is no significant ethnic difference between the two groups. From The Telegraph, with thanks to Fanabba:
A convoy of military lorries roared along the dirt track leading to a fertile valley of rice paddies and ridges of garlic shoots in central China. Green-uniformed soldiers equipped with razor-wire and cannons stared out blankly at Chinese police, who stood to attention as they passed through a checkpoint.
They were heading for two neighbouring villages, Nanren and Weitang, which have co-existed peacefully for centuries – but where, earlier this month, martial law was abruptly declared after a row over a traffic accident escalated into pitched battles that left 148 people dead.
The soldiers’ mission was to prop up the facade of ethnic harmony, constructed by the country’s Communist dictatorship over the past 55 years but dramatically undermined by the eruption of conflict between Hui Muslims and their Han Chinese neighbours. The troops sealed off the villages to prevent other militants coming to the aid of their fellow Muslims and stop the fighting spreading across China.
At a checkpoint near the villages, a policeman boasted of his efforts to keep out “foreign” agitators and admitted that the situation was tense. “Our leaders are still holding talks between the two sides but there has been no resolution yet,” he said. “Relations are very bitter. Too many people have died in a bad way.”
Just 10 days since China’s worst outbreak of inter-communal violence in more than a decade, Communist Party officials fear that the unrest in Henan province – the birthplace of China’s 4,000-year-old civilisation – is a worrying sign of trouble to come….
The violence is a setback for the Chinese government’s policy of permitting a modest Islamic revival among the Hui, one of the country’s most moderate Muslim minorities. It was also a sign that underlying ethnic tensions across China’s teeming territory are a continuing challenge to Beijing’s rule. At stake is the imperative set out in the official government slogan, “The 56 ethnic groups are one family.”…
A local imam said that one of his followers was found beheaded in rice paddy ditches, a Hui official told The Sunday Telegraph. “They share the same market, but the Hui people are insulted by the Han’s behaviour,” he said. “The Han stallholders try to sell them pork, pushing it in front of their faces all the time. Now the imam says the Han in Weitang are savages who mock our traditions by cutting our throats.”
By appearance there is nothing to distinguish the 10 million Hui from other Chinese: only their faith sets them apart. They are descendants of Muslims who traded along the Silk Road between Europe and Asia, and married local women.
In that case, this hardly qualifies as an “ethnic” conflict, does it?
Perhaps ominously, the mosque leaders appear sympathetic to the insurgents in Iraq. The mosque’s Ramadan letter declares: “In our Muslim world, our brothers are suffering a great disaster.
“Their actions in self-defence have been judged to be extremist terrorism, but they are struggling in an imperialist war that is killing people and rotting modern civilisation.”
The defiant mood in Iraq is apparently shared by mosque elders, a foretaste of further problems ahead for the Chinese authorities. “If our brothers are being attacked,” said one elder, Lao Mai, “it is a duty in our religion to join them in the fight.”